Friday, May 27, 2016

Going Solo

Well, for the first time ever today (May 26) I went up and flew on my own.

Going solo in flight for the first time is a big milestone in the flight training process. There is no instructor, no one next to you available to ensure the flight is safe and monitored and guaranteed to end well. It's all up to you.

Today, or really yesterday, I left this planet on my own for the first time, even though it was only for several minutes and I'd remained above the surface at a height of only a little over one thousand feet, and only briefly (considering take off ascent and approach to landing).

I've been approaching this stage for a long time. I started doing circuits around Rockcliffe airport in late December.
The circuit pattern for Rockcliffe airport, as flown by me yesterday.

This followed with circuits at Gatineau airport, Ottawa airport, and Carp airport. Take-offs, crosswinds, downwinds, bases, and finals. Flare-outs. Overshoots. Slips. All winter and spring I've been doing rounded rectangles on the ground and in the air.

Part of the reason it's taken so many months is partly due to lack of money (especially thanks to the demise of my Mac and having to replace it in March) and partly due to the change of instructors partway through. My original instructor wanted me to get going on solo quickly and may have had me doing so a month ago had he not gotten a better job elsewhere back in March; my replacement, a senior person at the club, has a more all-around, experienced, perfectionist approach, and I'm largely glad he does. I went up and down with a lot of ease and no anxiety.

I spent late April and this month perfecting my approaches, flare-outs, and landings. Thanks to money I've made selling things on Kajiji, I went ahead and booked my lesson for yesterday, and it so happened to be the perfect day for me to go on my own for the first time.

It went as usual: I went up with the instructor and did several circuits. Almost no issues whatsoever. But when we took off again after this, he took control and had me fish my documents out of my bag. As a routine I've always kept my documents in my bag and brought it with me, because they are required on any solo flight, so as soon as he asked to see them, I knew what was coming next. I slightly screwed up the landing after that circuit as I dealt with a bout of anxiety, but resolved it afterwards to ensure I would do fine the next time. Doing fine meant that I wouldn't do a touch and go, but rather a full stop in order for my instructor to leave the plane for me to continue on one more time.

After he all became somewhat easier.

I had to redo the run-down part of the checklist before taking off, but that was fine because I was simply using a list. Then I did my 360 look-around, taxied past the hold short line, radioed traffic about my intended take-off (back-tracking to the end of the runway), back-tracked, and then added full power. I took off.

Everything came with ease. The plane took off as it usually did, but it felt slightly lighter, and because everything is set up as a repetitive list of actions, it was all very simple. The controls felt easier to use, particularly the rudder pedals, and there was no expectation of approval or monitoring because everything I had to do was straightforward and set in pace, without being watched. I climbed, got to the required altitude, radioed my position, did my pre-landing checks (which I've done so many times it's all quick and memorized) and simply did the same things I've been doing every single other time. I set my airspeed and descent, and simply completed the circuit, very softly coming down to the runway easily and lightly. Landing felt a lot easier without the additional weight of a passenger next to me. I coasted down the runway, reducing speed, exited, radioed my clearance, and taxied back to the pumps. Taxiing felt so much easier. I didn't expect the lack of one person (who is not overweight or heavy at all) to make such a difference.

Of course, I got wet afterwards. My mother took video while my instructor took the traditional picture, which will end up on the club's Facebook page probably by tomorrow. My friend Alex, who elected to stay behind after his shift at dispatch and watch, did the soaking. It's almost entirely thanks to him that I decided I was going to learn to fly at the club; he happened to be on dispatch when I walked in on Canada Day last year, full of questions. He's since been the source of encouragement and warm advice.
The only unusual thing about all of this is that I can't muster up the feeling of how grand this milestone is. My close relatives are very happy for me, and even those I have on Facebook that I'm not close friends with have responded to the videos and pictures. When I was in the plane, even before taking off, I felt extremely excited at the fact I was taxiing on my own, or taking off or climbing on my own, but it was all in the moment. Now that it's all over with, I can more or less shrug it off. I try to think why, but I have little answer other than that it was pretty cool. It happened to take place on the 26th of May, a day I typically see notability for because I asked out a girl for the first time that day seven years ago. It just so happened to be that that day had the most perfect conditions for my first solo: Calm winds, directed perfectly straight down the runway - no crosswind at all - and perfect temperatures. Not too bad for moisture, and when I got soaked, I didn't get any chill afterwards.

I've been told that those who make solo are almost definitely on path to get their license, in the sense that a lot of people may attempt flight training only to find that they are physically or mentally incapable of dealing with it. It's why they structure the training to include lessons seen as the most frightening - spins, stalls, spirals, etc. - almost as early as possible. Able to take the feeling of lazily rotating vertically through the air in a spin? Okay, can you land an airplane given enough practice then? If so, no problem. What I find ironic is that as a kid I was afraid of most of the faster or active rides at midways and the Super Ex that used to come to Lansdowne Park each summer. Perhaps the difference here is nothing is nearly as startling in a plane; on a ride like a roller coaster you're often very suddenly subjected to G-forces, and that's what I was always fearful of. You don't get sudden G-forces that high in a plane, unless you happen to enter moderate to severe turbulence, and one of the objectives of flight is to avoid such circumstances.

What's next? I'll be soloing from now on in each successive lesson, to the point I won't have my instructor with me at all. The idea is that he'll be in the plane less and less.

That will be pretty awesome. Not as awesome as flying at night will eventually be, but great enough for now.

Red Cloud

Friday, May 20, 2016

Micro-Reviews, The - Artists Beginning with 'C'

Here's my next round of micro-reviews, containing all the artists in my list whose name starts with 'C.' I should point out that when I compiled the list, I put it in alphabetical order by not just the group name, but if it's an individual's name first and last, via that individual artist's first name. "Peter Gabriel" is in the 'P' section, not the 'G.' I just found it more straightforward that way, I guess.

Here I go.

The Cars (1976-1988)
This is a band that I find largely lighthearted in their musical approach. Their stuff is usually moderate-paced and somewhat easy-going. I like more than a couple of their songs, starting with 'Magic' (1984). I do like how the band can be versatile in their usage of guitar rock and synthy keyboards throughout their songs, so that they can sound like a traditional rock band ('Just What I Needed') or a soft New Wave ballad ('Drive.') Then there are songs that are right in the middle, such as 'Tonight She Comes,' 'You Are The Girl,' 'Magic,' etc. The band were around a decade older than most of their contemporaries during their heyday, spending their late twenties to the end of their thirties on the charts. I wish Benjamin Orr sung a little more than he did; Ric Ocasek was a lot more prolific and probably a little more marketed in general, making Orr something of a carefully-used treat you had to wait for. His vocals on 'Drive' have that emotional depth while he sounds young and carefree on 'Just What I Needed.' He died almost sixteen years ago, in October of 2000. He was only fifty-three. The Cars, minus Orr, continues today and has been since restarting in 2010 after years of Ocasek adamantly refusing any reunions.

Good Times Roll (1978)
One of what I'd call their 'feel-good' songs, largely with the larger-then-life refrain of 'good times roll!' This song starts in the chord of B major and largely stays there from beginning to end, moving a step down to A and another to G, The refrain bounces from E to its dominant, B, than down to the next E, an octave lower, on the bass. At the same time the chords of E major and D major are played to harmonize with the dominant B.
The title and premise of the song is simple, and I expect that it doesn't mean much other than letting things be what they are without worry. A carefree attitude, just to let the good times roll. There are also bits that sound anxious or uncertain, such as the bass's repetitive meander through B-E flat-E-E flat and back. Thanks to the guitar riffs, the synthed strings, and the general sound of the song, I get the impression and feeling that it sounds like something I would have heard played during an episode of That 70's Show. I wonder if I did. It does have a 70s rock sound to it.

Drive (1984)
This really differs from the song above. I don't know its musical progression, but I do know that it's a soft ballad that moves very slowly and sounds very sad. The model that features in the video for the song, the girl on the verge of tears, ended up pairing up with Ocasek. Good taste, I guess. Benjamin Orr wonders when the subject of the song will realize they're largely alone, and not in a good state. His voice is both outreaching and tender. I want to hope that he helps out whomever he is talking to, and 'drives them home' tonight. It's an emotional song that works, and it sounds full of depth. I say that because I've heard covers and they don't sound nearly as believable and raw as this does. Great emotional song that demonstrates the band's versatility.

Magic (1984)
This is likely the first song by them that I heard that made me look them up and take notice. The first song of theirs that caught my ears. It's simple: It's a catchy song. The keyboard is bright and appropriately wondrous-sounding. I haven't quite figured it out, but I know the basic structure of the song is a simple A-D-E, with a little extra E-F sharp-E picked low on the bass. It probably fits the definition of the simple catchy pop song really well, complete with lyrics about love and relationships. It is your typical Cars-style blend of naked guitar power chords with multiple different keyboard synths and riffs. One thing I find hinders the song's pace: The drum fills, which sound awkward and too eagerly added. They don't sound very cohesive, just random and played without too much prior thought to how they'd be executed. Not all of them are off, but I think that the band might have wanted to emphasize the big drum sound they created for the song, and they didn't execute it that well.
One other thing I want to mention is the music video. The band must have cast every single character they could find. There's a man on stilts, a crazy-looking bearded man, a portly guy who appears to be hungover, a mime, and two women that stand together at all times, in matching dresses, looking off into space and otherwise appearing nonchalant. They're rushing to gawk at Ric Ocasek, who is walking on the surface of a pool. Perhaps the idea was for the circus types to be the spectators. Reverse it so that a normal guy like Ocasek is now the attraction while the peculiar ones are the audience. It's just that they overdid the excitement and amazement to the point he's almost like Jesus walking among them, there to be touched and patted on the shoulder. Everyone takes a turn to leer or make a face at the camera for some reason. Expose their weirdness? I wonder if anyone noticed the mime on the diving board in the background as Ocasek passes the admiring queue. The sad thing is I used to imagine the video as the occasion of my birthday, and instead of all the people, the crowd was full of friends. A few in the video do actually look like a couple of them, and the two women reminded me of (now aforementioned) girl friends I both liked. As such they were my favorite characters in the video, because of how they looked, and that they didn't go crazy like everyone else. The video was filmed at the Hilton family's house in Beverly Hills, and Ocasek did get wet on the first take, thanks to the collapse of the plexiglass platform that stood in the pool.

Original Reviews (combined) of 'Magic' and 'Tonight She Comes'

Tonight She Comes (1985)
This is another typical-sounding Cars song with a blended use of keyboards and guitars. I recall that most of the reason I listened to it was thanks to the redhead that featured in the video thumbnail on YouTube. The song turned out to be good enough in the end, though when I think about the redhead now, I feel that the video put her up on a pedestal somewhat while simultaneously making her appear to act like a little girl here and there, which I don't particularly like in regards to my personal taste. But she's still kind of cute. I liked the simple progression of F-C-G-B flat. Wikipedia says it's in F major. Probably. I like that and its Cars-like sound, complete with backing voices, an element they employed in virtually all of their songs. A couple of things I don't like: The accentuated guitar power-hits during the big guitar solo. Unnecessary. Some of the higher-pitched keyboard synths make it sound too decadent. But otherwise, a good enough song.

You Are The Girl (1987)
Original Review
I heard this at Wal-Mart. I was attracted to what appeared to be a sustained A note on a keyboard. If I were you, I wouldn't really go and read my original review - reading it myself, it's embarrassing how much I talk about personal experiences that made me relate riffs in the song to them, or excited words about how notes make me see 'my face.' It would have been so much easier to write that particular notes such as the sustained A gave me personal self-reflections that were nice. I was determining that that musical note was what I personally related to the most at the time.
This song is in exactly the same vein as all the others aside from 'Drive' and 'Good Times Roll,' though the reason I like it is different. It's a combination of lyrics and timing. I finally determined enough of the song to be able to look it up the same night I was experiencing emotional let-down thanks to one of those aforementioned girl friends, who worked in the same building. The song came at the right time. "Why don't you dream anymore? What's in the way?" "Why don't you talk anymore? What did I say?" As I did manage to mention, I like the additional voices adding to certain lyrics, such as the 'why don't you stay for awhile?' line. Altogether, they make the words sound refined.
I failed to mention in my original review (as I would have at the time) that this song notably uses a moterik beat. The bass drum drives the every note except for the 2 and 4, which falls to the snare drum: _ _ - _ _ _ - _. 1-&-2-&-3-&-4-&. I first heard about such a rhythm when I read up on both a Wikipedia article and a separate magazine article on the Devo song 'Whip It,' which is incorrectly stated to have a moterik beat (it has a constant beat: 1-&-uh-2-&-uh-3-&-uh-4-&-uh). The bass is constant on only the quarter notes - 1-2-3-4 - no additions on the &s or uhs, while the snare is again on 2 and 4. Maybe the tight hi-hat rhythm confused everyone, as it plays every note save for the snare, but again at a constant rate, with an open hi-hat on 1 and 3. The idea behind the moterik beat, including its name, is that the beat 'drives' you through the song on the bass drum. 'You Are The Girl' is a good example of that.

The Chemical Brothers (1989-Present)
What I know of the Chemical Brothers is limited, but I would think it would be right to say that they are probably part of a group of pioneers of the 1990s that made house and big beat music popular - pioneers along with Fatboy Slim, Moby, and others. I also happen to know that they are English, and that they started out by calling themselves the Dust Brothers until an already established music production duo with the same name put a stop to that. The two who had claimed the name first had done so four years prior, and like the Chemical Brothers, they produced acts that sampled music. They also happened to produce Middle of Nowhere by Hanson in late 1996, which turned into an enormous breakthrough success for the three teenagers on the cover. In terms of The Chemical Brothers, I happen to know them thanks to the music video for 'Let Forever Be.'

Let Forever Be (1999)
I think I saw the video first, in a program about influential or notable music videos regarding their visual effects or creativity. This one happened to pop up. I think it actually serves as the main influence behind a clip video I created seven years ago while in high school. It's still on YouTube. I need to take it down or make it invisible. It's embarrassing for me to watch now because it looks so silly and amateur - and it uses 'In The City' by Madness, which just exacerbates that. Regarding this music video, it uses a lot of really neat visual transitions from on-location settings featuring a female character to studio-based choreography featuring duplicates of the character. A drummer also shows up here and there, sometimes mirrored, and by the end the woman's alarm clock has magnified hugely.
In terms of the song itself, it's an interesting bit of sound. I describe it that way because it comes off as an experiment in sound production rather than musical harmony. The backing drums are a good accompaniment. The song almost sounds like something you'd hear in a video game, in terms of the lower sounds. Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher sings the lyrics, which sound dreamy and distant but also versatile. "How does it feel like to spend a little lifetime sitting in the gutter? Scream a symphony."

Chicago (1967-Present)
All I have to say about these guys is that I like one of their songs, and that's about it. They sound good in general, but I don't have enough interest. The band features as a background running joke on the main character of the film Clear History, and they also appear in the film.

25 Or 6 To 4 (1970)
This song starts out very interestingly and continues that way, though I don't like the ending too much as its reliance on all the horns reminds me of the sounds of 70s TV show themes - particularly M*A*S*H. But I like the chorus and the very simple subject matter: Should I keep doing what I'm doing despite the time? The song's title is a ponder at whether it's 3:35 or 3:34 in the morning, and the question is whether to continue to try to write or go to bed. I often have that dilemma when I write my journal, or write on here - particularly as I write these micro-reviews, which is normally done in the early hours of the morning. It's currently 10 to 2am.
The band fuse horns with rock really well, in much the same way Electric Light Orchestra fused strings with rock during the same period. Why do I like this one song by them? I guess I like the sound of the vocals, the progression and the fast-paced rhythm. 'Saturday in the Park?' Kind of boring to me. Appropriate sound for the subject matter, yes, but boring for my ears.

Chilliwack (1970-1988)
Another Canadian band, this time from the west coast, namely Vancouver. I moderately like them for a song or two, and that's about it. While it's not on my list, I like the musical progression and sinister sound of 'Secret Information' (the verses).

My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone) (1981)
When I looked up the music  video, it appeared to be taken from a program of music videos of songs named 'My Girl,' because for a split second you can see a shot of Chas Smash of Madness drinking tea in the final scene of the music video for the Madness song 'My Girl' before it cuts to the introduction of 'My Girl' by Chilliwack.
This isn't a very happy-sounding song, but it's very hopeful. The music sounds bleak and hopeless, and makes me think of the sun having just set extremely early on a frigid winter's afternoon. Yet you're still in the mostly empty office with lots of work still to do. However, I like it because of the hope exhibited in the lyrics, and the refrain of 'gone gone gone she's been gone so long...' After the first verse, which has wound itself up into a climax of music and vocals, it suddenly falls apart, stops...and then the vocal refrain immediately re-starts. It's quite funny to listen to at first. But this vocal refrain ends up building up the final coda of the song. It's interesting.

Chumbawumba (1980-2012)
These guys are probably the most radical group on my list. The band, which had all sorts of people come and go, have deep anarchic roots, preferring to do what they want without much regard for any kind of system or authority. They spent all of their early years gigging at minor things as a sort of rag-tag group of instrumentalists with various stances on issues. Only when they finally signed with a major record company - EMI - in 1997, finally choosing an option that was financially plausible while receiving the potential to reach a major audience (and simultaneously alienating all of their anti-corporate, anti-systematic supporters, contemporaries, and following) did they make a mark on the charts. And while they did release further singles afterwards, I haven't knowingly heard any of them but for their first breakthrough hit, which I'll write about below.

Tubthumping (1997)
This has to hold the notability as the very first song I heard on the radio that I actively liked and looked forward to hearing. Sure, there was what turned out to be 'Gangsters Paradise' which I kind of liked when I first heard it at a young age, but this was a song I really wanted to hear. I remember when I first heard it. I spent my summer being watched by my friend's mother, who was a neighbour, and one of the routines of the later afternoon was driving to Nortel in Kanata to pick up my friend's dad from work. I'd hear it on the car radio during these commutes, in the back seat with my friend. I guess I liked the refrain: "I get knocked down. But I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down." When I think about it, the family that babysat me was highly religious, at least the mother, and considering the potential tone or lyrical suggestions the song could hold for that sort of mindset, I'm kind of impressed she didn't change the channel or turn it off.
The song uses a basic musical structure for the refrain - D major to G major, over and over, on guitar and keyboard, and then a simple E minor, G major, D major and A major for the little 'Danny boy' verses. I've taken the song apart, and it's interesting. Lyrically it appears to be about sitting in a bar virtually all the time, living life as an alcoholic. On the other hand, the title apparently refers to sensationalizing politicians. I like the Arm & Hammer-influenced cover art. The trumpet is a sorrowful, but relevant, addition.

Citizen King (1993-2002)
This band, like a lot of the others in this list, was a one-hit wonder. They had their song 'Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out)' and that was it. It was fronted by its bassist.

Better Days (And the Bottom Drops Out) (1999)
I liked this song when it played on the radio when I was eight. It just sounded catchy, and it still does now, though it has its derivative progression to thank for that. Most songs use this progression in D minor, but they upped it to E minor. E-D-A. However, this song uses scratch and sound effects, with the choruses always dissolving on this keyboard effect. I liked the unusual sound they used during the second verse. I don't know what it is. It just sounds different and interesting. It made me laugh many years ago. The acoustic guitar is nice. It sounds appropriately uninterested. The one thing I don't like is the very random "I've been a star of many plays" line in the chorus. It doesn't work to me. It sounds like something used for the sake of rhyming with 'days.'

Coldplay (1996-Present)
I kind of wonder why they're called "Coldplay." It sounds somewhat different to all the typical band names I've seen. I don't particularly listen to them, but 'Clocks' did make an impression on me. Other than that, I've heard their other song, the one with the interminable string rhythm (I forget what it's called) and I've seen the music video for their single 'The Scientist' (largely because it plays entirely in reverse) but nothing else they've done has appealed to me than the one song they came out with in 2002.

Clocks (2002)
I think I like it for the same reason everyone else likes it: Its piano arrangement. The progression and arrangement is extremely simple and only makes up three chords. It sounds so bright yet only the first chord is a major, the second two limited and sad-sounding minors.
The exact style and way it's played goes like this: The first chord is played in its second inversion, the second in its third, and the last in its first, and they're played broken, in a descending manner from the tonic of the first (E flat major), the mediant of the second (B flat minor) and the dominant of the third (F minor). This descending rhythm is played twice per chord, and broken off halfway on the third round of the first and second chords (the F minor plays a whole three times). It's really that simple, even if my long sentences don't make it seem that way. Furthermore, the bassist does a nice compliment by ascending to the second note rather than descending as the piano does.
Lyrically, I'm not entirely sure what the vocalist is trying to get across, unless the song is really just about letting things go. I don't know. I get the impression there's romance in there, probably longing. It just happened to be the song the DJ decided to put on when a girl in my class prompted a dance with me that she'd asked for minutes earlier, causing me greater discomfort than I already felt as we held each other's shoulders - this was a song I liked and I was with a girl! This was an end of school dance. I was finishing grade six. Too shy and awkward and not nearly confident enough at pairing with someone, a nice girl did it for me, just as a song I felt embarrassed to listen to and like started. The dance lasted half a minute. I couldn't look her in the face and to help I kept repeating the phrase "I can't wait to tell Duncan." She very quickly suggested I go ahead and do that. I haven't really danced with a girl since. Probably a good thing. As for my brief dancing partner, she's happily married these days, and living far away from here.
Clocks is a good song, though I do wish it could be, at least in my eyes, perhaps good for more than just its piano and to a much lesser extent its bass. It's a happy song for a second. The rest is melancholy.

Counting Crows (1991-Present)
Nothing to say here, other than I kind of like the lead singer's voice.

Mr. Jones (1993)
I like this song for its well-executed style and lyrics. It just sounds well-done. You get a lot of minor chords throughout, though it sounds happier on the chorus. The lyrics are well-written and well sung. I love how the singer changes the refrain in each chorus: "Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales" "Mr. Jones and me look into the future" "Mr. Jones and me stumbling through the barrio," etc. The lyrics make me think of me and a friend of mine to some extent, particularly in terms of looking at girls. That's about it; my guitar is black and white, not grey, and while I want to record music, most of it is for the record of my ideas and creativity rather than 'seeing myself staring back at me' on the television. Apparently, it was written with a real-life Mr. Jones, who was a bassist in another band separate from the Counting Crows, in mind.

Hanginaround (1999)
Very nice guitar in this one. It sounds deep at first, while the bass, when it comes in, sounds exactly the opposite, extremely bright. It has a catchy progression. I haven't heard it in awhile. I recall the music video - the vocalist waits for a bus and lets all pass until a cute woman shows up to wait with him. One particular scene I remember is a shot of the rest of the band smiling through one of the bus windows. It looked kind of funny to me. There's a nice piano in it too, and it ends with everything either stopping, fading out, or just falling apart. Another part of the attraction is just the singer's voice, which I've mentioned. I don't really know what else to say about this song. No real negatives. It's nice to hear the snare drum without any snares on it once in a while.

The Cult (1983-1995)
I have nothing to say about them other than their lead singer looks like an older woman who works in the dry foods section at work (at least he did in the 80s).

Rain (1985)
Original Review
I heard this on a music channel on TV. It just sounded welcoming to hear. But, as I mentioned for 'Better Days' above, it uses a derivative progression - the exact same one - and, like everyone else, on D minor. But the guitarist found a way to be creative with his instrument, so there is something refreshing there, and it sounds somewhat rejoicing to me, which I also like. I admire the idea of a beautiful woman embodying rain, as I also like rain, albeit on a hot sunny day, in refreshing bursts, or the soothing sound of it at night. But there are very obvious things I dislike, largely visual things. I'd simply say don't watch the music video, as there are repetitive close-ups of a mouth pouring saliva on a microphone. And as I mentioned, the singer reminds me of an older woman I know at work. That's specific to me, but I'm sure other people may find he looks effeminate. Apparently, the band don't find this song to their liking very much. I wonder why. Either way, in some of its lyrics and its rejoicing guitar, it does sound refreshing in its way.

The Cure (1976-Present)
These British guys were probably one of the obvious examples of New Wave Gothic style. I only know one of their songs, and I'm glad I do. I think they have a very recreational attitude towards recording, which helps their creativity and performance. My paternal aunt once knew, or met, lead singer Robert Smith. I can't remember exactly, but there's no reason not to believe her.

Feels Like Heaven (1987)
Original Review
Song De-construction
This is a great song right from the introduction. It's a nice build up starting from drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard synths, and lead guitar line (vocals finally starting after). One thing I originally thought was that the lead guitar notes, the descending line of happy notes, is actually played by the same guitar that plays the deeper melodies that are constant throughout the song. Overall, it's this guitar melody that makes me love its sound. Not to mention that in the proper recording the electric guitar stays on one channel while the acoustic keeps to the other, as if their players are on either side of you. It's in A major - a rare thing, a major - and it's something I easily relate to personally based on the progression and the notes used, and the melody. Lyrically, it appears to be about nostalgia, the happy memories of the early stages of a relationship, which are based on singer Smith's memories of his courtship with his wife. These memories are particularly routed in the setting of the Beachy Head cliffs, and the music video is appropriately set there. The music sounds joyful, happy, endearing and, in places, kind of sad in its nostalgia. I just think the gentle guitar melody is beautiful.

Well, those are my reviews of artists whose (first) names start with C. There were far less, thankfully, and it wasn't as hard and prolonged as all the B-named bands/artists. I will come around with my 'D' reviews, for which there are only nine artists. For that I can be somewhat thankful. This was written over several evenings. Moving on.

Red Cloud

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What Does Pride Mean, Really?

I understand the idea behind pride parades, of any sort, whether it's for the benefit of transgender people, bisexuals or the traditional same-sex couples, or all at once (I'm pretty sure all at once is typical).

I don't understand the groping and the nudity.

I once had an e-mail conversation with a woman who had the personal opinion and perspective that non-traditional sexual relationships should be pitied because they're reduced to that and nothing else. Stripped of any unique individualism aside from that, homosexuals and non-heterosexual relationships are only about the exclusive fact that their sexuality is non-traditional, and that's that.

I don't believe in such a narrow view, but all those pictures I see of guys holding each other's butts and standing together nearly naked sort of illustrates her point. To show your pride, you have to hold your partner's ass, not merely just his hand. That shows you're definitely in a relationship with him, and proud.

My understanding of a pride event is that for the community or category of people it represents, it provides a time and place of well-being for those people, an event for them to feel as regarded as any normal human being should be in the face of their adversities, which have usually been given to them by a hostile social atmosphere, or a limiting government that encouraged disparities in the civil system. As such, people should feel comfortable, which means they should be able to hold their partner's hand, or stand intimately together, without any malice or self-consciousness. They can feel proud in showing this attraction. That's the idea.

Unfortunately, I think that idea went a little too far, because I highly doubt couples behave in public by grasping each other inappropriately or getting so intimate it almost becomes indecent exposure. Being prideful should mean confidently exhibiting who you are by doing typical things - in this case, holding hands or giving a little kiss on the cheek, being affectionate in a way that's not forced or inappropriate. I see heterosexual couples kissing on benches and holding hands, not groping each other; I would expect that in the LGBTQ* community, they probably have the same social conventions. Non-traditional sexual orientations are probably only different than traditional ones on an emotional level - not necessarily a social one, and definitely not only on a mere sexual one. But hey, I don't absolutely know. And I may obviously be judging the nature of an entire event via a few photos and what I've heard. They don't refer to every participant, of course. The simple basis for all of this is my wonder at why a few participants in these affairs like to show their pride by being overtly sexual in their public behaviour - which most heterosexual couples, at least from what I've observed over my life, don't really participate in. Those that do tend to make people uncomfortable, and they get a lot of space. Of any gay couple I've ever seen on the street, they look no different than anyone else, and they behave no differently either. Why, for the few that do, act in such a manner during those parades? Isn't that a bit misleading?

I don't know. But I'd rather not observe that personally. I find it somewhat offensive. This goes for any couple, gay, straight, transgender or whatever. Everyone has private space. And before I get criticized for hating public displays of affection, there is a difference between romantic kissing and being close, and grasping each other with forceful passion, pulling ass and slipping hands up skirts, etc. One is sweet. The other is crude. I have no problem with the former.

The 'C' micro reviews should be coming up soon.

Red Cloud

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Under a Microscope

Being part of my generation, I've seen and read a few articles and blog posts about us and what others seem to perceive. Most of it is hardly positive. The other night, a page on Facebook I follow posted a viral video of a young woman apologizing for our existence. Hence my decision to write what I think. By the way, I didn't watch the video. I've seen enough petulant stuff in the media to understand the attitude and topic of what the video obviously talks about, and the brief explanation was enough.

Instead of merely listing what's wrong and what I think is right or wrong, at least right away, I'm going to be simple and say this: I believe every generation has the same attitudes and personalities, the same strengths and weaknesses. The only reason those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s are getting the most observed flack about everything is because we're the first generation to live in the digital age where interconnectivity is rich and fully apart of our lives, and we therefore have social media to keep us highly aware of all of this.

There's also the fact that we are the first generation to use smartphones and computer-based relationships. We have such a high wealth of information at our hands. You don't have to go to the library to research a topic in a book or on microfilm, you can just plug into a network and use Wikipedia or countless other online resources; you don't have to phone your friend or knock on his door, you can simply text him or look on your Facebook newsfeed and get information from all your friends immediately. This unfortunately means you get a ridiculous overload of information as kids take selfies non-stop and people track each other on apps, and we come off as self-absorbed narcissistic brainiacs who know a lot about nothing at all. I doubt knowing Canadian Daniel Lanois produced Martha and the Muffins, Peter Gabriel, U2, and Robbie Robertson will get you very far when it comes to useful knowledge.

We are also coming of age at an inopportune time, and this isn't an excuse. A lot of successful people, aside from brains or courage or determination, happened to come along at a very good time. A very interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, discusses this. Computer software pioneers like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, etc. all happened to come of age in the mid-70s when computer software development was just picking up. There was a developing market for what they were born to do, and they came at the perfect time. For us, though, in an economic sense, we have the period of time after the Great Recession. Things are as slow as ever.

Personally, I am not going to apologize for anything, whether it's existing (which makes no sense) or being part of this young generation. It's the Internet and this world of extreme interconnectivity, this environment of hyper information overload, that's slapping us in the face with all of these complaints and opinions and analysis of us as a group. We're under a microscope. There isn't a parent in any previous generation who felt their kids or "today's kids" are as 'tough' or smart or anything else ideal that they envisioned.

Of course, like any other generation, there are the functionally incapable ones, the kids who sit doing nothing for themselves because the online world or their parents will do it for them, the lazy ones and the whiny ones. With us it's perhaps more pronounced - I won't deny that all of those so opinionated are probably right in a sense. It's not entirely our fault. Who raised them? What kind of parents decided to give their ten year old child a smartphone? Who decided video games and Facebook were enough for a child? Who decided schools should have super-important "graduation" ceremonies for finishing senior kindergarten, and that the child is always right no matter what (for fear of hurting their self-esteem?) Team sports are all about smiling at each other and running around, with points for showing up and participating. There's little to no effort required. Connect two and two together. Maybe that's why we have a reason to complain. It makes absolutely no sense - nor is it right or fair - to raise a person a certain way, have it backfire or produce undesirable results, and therefore blame that person for being who he/she is. Or suggest or make him/her feel, ridiculously, that they should be apologetic for 'existing.' It's insane and despicable.

I'm what everyone calls a 'millennial.' I'm a nobody, at least until I've proven otherwise, with my own efforts. I don't expect a medal for landing a job and coming in on time; I don't need my hand held and I certainly have no fear of getting anxious at every little uncertainty. I'm not going to complain that I belong in a 'whiny' generation, because that's what people like to focus on and generalize, and I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon or be so hopelessly narrow-minded. I do believe that at this moment it is difficult to consider any career prospects, and that instead of worrying so much about student debt, we should be worrying about having a market and a need for new grads in the business world so that those who already have that debt can at least get a start somewhere and begin paying it off. After all, you can lower tuition fees and make school a reality for disadvantaged families, but they aren't going to be much better off if their degree, diploma or doctorate will only ever get them a job at McDonalds or Canadian Tire for the next X number of years. At least as long as the economy is slow, the market is dead, and whatever job opportunity that does exist only considers those with years of experience. And unpaid internships don't help anyone but the company; how often does an unpaid internship count to a different employer interviewing the candidate? I don't expect much.

We're overly examined because of the age and technology we live in, and it isn't helped with boneheaded alternative ideas to raising children, whether it's making them feel ultra-self-important, giving them a piece of technology and telling them to sit with it, or helicopter parenting to the point that grown-up child is incapable of surviving without his or her hand being held. The problem is the time we live in, parents, technology, and to a small extent, our own inner natures, all of which are unique, being negatively affected by the latter. No child in the 70s took pictures of his or her own food every day, or face, except for the odd artistic photographer planning an exhibition in some creative vein.

Oh, and we need to stop screaming at each other. Before you finish this and densely decide that I've been complaining about us as a generation, realize I've been avoiding the whole self-loathing shit in favor of a disconnected observation on external reasons that seem a lot more plain in sight to me. I'm not going to tell my peers to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" or stop complaining, because putting someone down in their disadvantaged way by doing so is cruel. We need to help each other out and be positive, not disdainful or comparing.

Red Cloud

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Micro Reviews - B

Last time, with 'A' bands, I did my usual thing and got too wordy and bogged down in what I had to write. As a result my mind got impatient and bored, and I began reusing words and phrases and sometimes explaining what I meant too much. This time, I'm going to keep it to the true shortness of a micro review, including my little blurbs on the artist/band. I don't need to delve into their history or where they ended up, just my opinion and whatever I find briefly interesting. That's what this is about, after all.

Here I go again (on my own, down the only road I've ever known)...

B-52's, The (1978-Present)
What do I think of them? Not too much. And I don't mean that in a negative way. I just happen to like only two of their songs. They did the Flintstones theme for the Flintsones movie in 1994, which was good if I can remember it well. I haven't really tried to look over their back catalogue. I probably should. They are a fun, happy band though, from what I get, which I like.

Love Shack (1989)
Original review
Great bass line and guitar. Nice vocals. The girls give off a flirty, inviting tone that's attractive while Fred Schneider is generally fun to listen to. A nice party atmosphere in the song. Guitar stands out to me in sound and style.

Roam (1990)
Original review
I like this because it makes me think of early days when I was young at my maternal grandparents' when they lived in Kanata. I don't know why. I tend to think of my maternal relatives when I was young and visiting them. Good guitar, nice procession, and great how it always ends up on B major.

Bananarama (1979-Present)
An 80s girl group. I don't know much about them, but like probably most people, at least on this continent, I only really know their hits 'Cruel Summer' and 'Venus,' and prefer the former. Not much else thought on them, really. I think Ace of Base covered Cruel Summer in the late fact I probably mentioned that about them in the 'A' group.

Cruel Summer (1983)
Simple pop song, but I like it for its guitar, keyboard and summery atmosphere. The notes are simple, too: D flat minor, A major, and B major. It's a great sound. The keyboard follows this as well as the guitar. I love the drum effects and the xylophone sound as well. They give me an image of a rainy forest on a slope. The chorus makes me think of a beach that has a soft, easy gradient into the water. I guess that's the point. Lyrically it appears to be more about being on one's own and bored in a too-hot city. Mirages of friends and maybe a lover.

The Bangles (1981-1989)
Sharing a record company with R.E.M., English Beat, and many others (I.R.S. Records, owned by Stewart Copeland's older brother) The Bangles were another American* girl group in similar vein to The Go-Go's, though I think they might have been more involved with writing music and lyrics than Banarama may have been. Yet, when I think of it, two songs of theirs that come to mind - 'Walk Like an Egyptian' and 'Manic Monday' - were written by others, the latter being the recently late Prince. Again, not much to say on them, other than Susanna Hoffs is cute (as she looked in the 80s - I don't know how she looks now).

Walk Like An Egyptian (1986)
Original review
I like this song's key. Published written music of this song puts it in C, but it just doesn't match up to my ears, which hear it in B major. I think publishers do that - lift it up a semitone - to ease the difficulty of the song into an easier key to play for a learning pianist/guitarist, because every songbook I've picked up that has this song in it puts it in C major instead. I like the song for its guitar, really, and general fun look at every day life via the lyrics and key changes (B - E - B - D, and so on). Nearly every member of the band has her part, except for the drummer I believe, so there's variety, and it's just plain fun. The guitar makes the B major chord it's playing sound angry and surly and not to be messed with. I went crazy about that in my original review.

Barenaked Ladies (1990-Present)
A fun Canadian band known for their harmonies and quirky lyrics. I like a lot of their random hits: Enid, One Week, It's All Been Done, Falling For the First Time, etc. They have something of a range which is nice, although I kind of wish Andy Creegan had stayed with them longer, because I liked his piano parts in their music. Kevin Hearn is a great fundamental part of the band - he fit in well from the start - but I would have liked to hear genuine piano a bit more and Hearn is more of a synthesizer player in the band. I can't diminish his parts though, of course, because like I said, they work.

Enid (1992)
Original review
A song I like for its complicated set of instruments. It has a horn section, pedal steel guitar, even a cuica drum. As a result you get a lot of nice variety, and the piano is nice as well. The song isn't simple in musical direction or progression either - the verses have a meandering progression of notes, bass line, and instruments that come and go. Yet the lyrics are simple and despite being about a failed first relationship, singer Page looks back on it with maturity and self-effacement.

Brian Wilson (1992)
This song starts out slow, with a gentle acoustic guitar, and gets ever more rapid, nervous and frantic. I like its bright sounding chorus - nice happy chords to "I'm lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did" - and the band accomplish a great balance of perspective between music and lyrics. Plus I think the lyrics ring true for a lot of young people out there. Those who are either just out of university or college or even high school, people getting into their early twenties, who are uncertain what to do or how to go from where they are in life, and therefore become depressed and lethargic. "Drove downtown in the rain, just to check out the late night record store." Nothing better to do. nothing at all. Of course, this was 1992. Nowadays people just check in on Facebook or Instagram or take bored selfies, not having to drive anywhere. I wouldn't be surprised one bit if it turned out constant living on social media generally made young people more depressed than fulfilled. Ironically, the actual Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys did an a cappella cover of this song. It's strange seeing the heading in Wikipedia: "Brian Wilson cover of Brian Wilson."

One Week (1998)
This isn't a hugely favorite song of mine, but something I would willingly listen to, at least enough to consider it. It's a rampant barrage of probably ad-lipped lyrics that can almost be overwhelming. But they paint a good picture of an everyman who has his quirks and can probably be somewhat childish for his age. "Chickety-China, the Chinese chicken; you have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin'" "I don't make films, but if I did they'd have a samurai" "I have a history of taking off my shirt." I think this was their first major hit in America. Perhaps it spoke to a lot of them, or it was easily relatable. I think this was BNL at their quirkiest (at that time, of course, though Enid and 'Grade 9' were almost just as fun or silly).

It's All Been Done (1999)
A good enough song. I like how the lyrics refer to time periods over history; a love story told over a millennium. The band seem to have a lot of confidence that we'll still have 'The Price is Right' in the next thousand years. I think this is one of the band's rare songs to have a 'whoo-oo' refrain in it, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a conscious decision.

Too Little Too Late (1998)
I don't know why this isn't in my list. I'd consider this one for its familiarity. I like its rock style - BNL aren't a hard rock band, yet they are considered a rock band -  and its simple, easy progression and lyrics. The music video is funny as well.

Pinch Me (2000)
As soon as the drum loop begins, you can recognize the song. The acoustic guitar, too. It has a very uncertain sound to it, and it always seemed to make me think of an uncle with a similar expression. It's not a very happy song in contrast to the others I've got above. The kind of 'would the world notice if I disappeared?' type of lyric. I expect it's a song about depression. But the hook and arrangement of the song is typical of the band, experienced and well-done.

Falling For the First Time (2001)
From the same album, I believe, as 'Pinch Me,' I've always liked this song, since hearing it on the radio, though I didn't realize, amazingly, that it was by BNL until last year. I just like the general progression, rock sound, and merry-go-round jauntiness of the pace and chords of the music. The 'anything loved can be lost' refrain has a great musical procession to it that highlights the whole song for me, and the drums are crazy.

Bass is Base (1993-1995)
I only know about this Canadian band because of their one song 'I Cry' (which I will mini-review below). The trio came from North York. I don't know why or how they didn't continue. They released two albums and had one top forty hit - the aforementioned 'I Cry.' Afterwards one became a chef, another went onto a solo career, and the third became a music producer.

I Cry (1996)
Original review
My original review focused more on the synesthesia of the thing (which most of my earlier reviews tend to do, somewhat unfortunately). The song is part bass and guitar, and part vocal melody/beat-boxing. It has an R&B feel to it, which jives with the band's genre. I like the guitar chord strummed over the 'you know that I cry' refrain. The song screams 90s to me, which is part of the attractiveness of it for me.

Beach Boys (1961-Present)
I've heard a few hits by this quintessential American band, particularly 'Fun Fun Fun,' 'I Get Around,' 'God Only Knows,' etc. It's hard not to hear at least a couple of them. They're happy, summery songs that reflect a sunny, fun lifestyle, probably in one's teen years, and no doubt during the summer, on the beach. Gidget would have dated these guys if she weren't so fictional. They were from virtually the same time period, after all.

California Girls (1965)
Ironically, I only heard this song because I first heard a cover version performed by David Lee Roth of Van Halen. I only saw his version because it featured on an 80s-focused episode of a music-comedy program called Video on Trial, which I watched now and then on MuchMusic. I liked the vocal melody sung during the choruses, and eventually I decided I should probably look up and listen to the original.
The Beach Boys' original version definitely sounds grander and better in quality to Roth's cover, which has a highly refined studio production to it and is a lot more rock-based. I like it a little more as a result. But I always find originals better than covers. Plus, the vocal melodies in the original are a lot sunnier and, as I said, grander. It inspired 'Back in the U.S.S.R.' by The Beatles, which is another great song from that time (and probably reflects my taste perfectly compared to wishing they could all be California girls. After all, those Ukraine girls really leave the West behind). This was Brian Wilson's musical genius at work. Well before he was lying in bed.

Kokomo (1988)
I heard this at Wal-Mart and looked it up largely out of curiosity. I love the bass line and the accordion sound of the verses, particularly as the bass goes from C up (not down) to G, then F. The steel drums are an appropriate and perfect add-on to the song musically and in terms of reflecting its subject matter. I guess by then, with Wilson's absence, they'd decided to re-focus on the Florida Keys (and other places in the Caribbean) rather than the beaches of California. The music does something pretty neat and smart here with the F chord: It transitions from a major to a minor in both the verses (the bass following this by sliding down an octave) and at the end of the choruses (which are a simple C major/F major until the end; the F major transitions longingly to a minor as the same tonic is held). I read that it was one of the band's biggest hits, which I find kind of funny considering that it was huge (thanks to its release via a film called Cocktails) decades after their original heyday of massive hits about surfing and having fun on the beach. The band had its name set in legacy as the fun 60s surf band largely thanks to its creative director, Brian Wilson, and then two decades later, without him, they put out a new song for a film's soundtrack and it's almost as big. These aren't the young male counterparts of Gidget anymore - they're middle-aged veterans. But it goes to show that it really doesn't matter how much time has passed or how old you've gotten in between. They aren't the only ones. Paul Simon had his giant stardom around the same time the Kray twins ran the club circuit in London, with his friend Art, and then he mostly fizzled out. Then he came back hugely with Graceland, a product of a trip to Africa to hear the sounds. Well beyond his days of hanging out with Julio down by the school yard, by that time he was still goofing off with Chevy Chase, who stole his vocals. But I'm getting off topic. Kokomo - great procession and instruments. Love the accordion and the unusual change from major to minor on the same chord.

The Beat (1978-1983)
One of the English Ska bands of the early 80s, peers to The Specials, UB40, Madness, etc. etc. I know about them almost entirely thanks to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. John Hughes had a great taste for 80s British music - he included it in a lot of his early teen Brat Pack films, and if he couldn't get it, he emulated it. Pretty in Pink has the Psychedelic Furs; Ferris Bueller's Day Off has the English Beat; Sixteen Candles has a whole soundtrack of artists ranging from The Specials to The Thompson Twins, and he even had his music producer, Ira Newborn, re-create and emulate 'Our House' by Madness for one scene. Unfortunately, for The English Beat alone, I don't have much to say. They come from the same place as Duran Duran and (old) Top Gear's Richard Hammond. (That is to say, Birmingham). I've tried listening to a few of their songs, but most didn't have enough of an impact on me. They're not bad - I'm just not entranced. 'Too Nice to Talk To' is okay. I like their ska-influenced stuff the most. I think they're one of the several bands to reform under different names after their dissolution, with some members returning as General Public and others going on to become Fine Young Cannibals. The nucleus of the band, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, worked together with other artists, notably providing additional vocals on 'Victoria Gardens' by Madness, a song originally chosen to be a single off Keep Moving, but replaced at the last second by 'One Better Day.' Oh well. Their vocals are great additions.

March of the Swivelheads/Rotating Head (1982)
Original review
This was my introduction to them: An fast instrumental playing as a teen boy runs and jumps and flings himself through garden hedges in an attempt to get home in time to look like he's 'on the mend' to his worried parents. I wouldn't actually call it a true instrumental, because Ranking Roger's voice does cut in, repeating 'rotating heads' during a quiet interlude in the song. You hear rattles, horns, hand drums, rapidly-picked bass. There's a sax, watery keyboard effects, a guitar I called 'zesty' sounding almost six years ago. It just has a chorus-y bright tone to it, a tone I usually prefer over most guitar sounds. Not to mention the percussion sounds that originally made me think someone slammed a plastic drinking cup on a counter during the studio recording sessions.
By this point I've gone on to try out the alternative version of this, which is actually the original, called 'Rotating Head.' The instrumental was the actual alternative, which I'd heard first. 'Rotating Head' comes off as even faster-paced thanks to Ranking Roger's quick vocals. It's a bit shorter and definitely arranged differently, but it doesn't lack any excitement or fun, and the dynamics are merely played with differently. I'll say both are fun for the ears, almost equally. The instrumental has more changes in it, with a quiet interlude and sound effects that are more present (no overlying, distracting vocals) but the lyrics the vocals are running with elevate the piece just as well. It appears to be about someone who lives a very fast-paced, exciting (though dangerous) lifestyle. Maybe an assassin, or a bounty hunter? Either way, it's just fun!

Mirror in the Bathroom
This is a questionable one. I think I like it in general, but the problem is I can't hear it very well; the videos on YouTube are really quiet. I like the guitar in it. Similar drum beat and rhythm to the song written above. This is one of their ska-driven tunes, and it's pretty good. I just wish I could hear it better. I could turn it up, but I shouldn't need to. I get a sense of difficulty and disappointment with this song, a feeling of unfairness. Something one can relate to now and then.

Big Audio Dynamite (1984-1997)
One of the groups to form out of members from other groups (notably The English Beat and The Clash). That's all I really have to say about them, other than that my father actually has their first album, on vinyl. They look like they're trying to look as cool and full of swagger as they possibly can, though I think they over did it somewhat.

E=MC2 (1985)
I heard this on a music channel on TV and liked the keyboard strings. It gave it a false sense of high ideals for a moment to me, as if an orchestra full of snobby classical musicians were playing. That idea lasted as long as the first time I heard it the first time. I think it's notable enough for me to have it on my list, and I would listen to it at any given time, though I'd probably stick to the radio-shortened version. The actual version is almost six minutes long, and for no reason; Mick Jones seems to run out of things to say around four minutes, and then it's just the chorus lyrics repeated on and on until it abruptly stops. They could have easily just faded it out during the final sound clips.
The song itself is a reference to film plots and characters. That's mostly it. Additionally, there are sound overdubs of quotes of a few characters from the 1970 film Performance. It kind of sounds like a bunch of random references loosely thrown together to create an interwoven fabric of lyrics that just sounds like constant changes of topic, and all at random.

Big Mountain (1988-Present)
Just a band I know because I like one of their songs. Reggae.

Baby, I Love Your Way (Cover) (1994)
This is a song from my childhood. I heard it on the radio all the time. I never felt anything for it, particularly, at the time. When I looked it up again six years ago, though, I immediately liked it, particularly the strength of the production and the diversity of the bass. The chorus has a great bass progression that follows E major note-by-note before immediately returning to B, a fifth of E. When it hit B, with a gentle keyboard accompanying that with a B major chord, my mind immediately went to a girl of whom no other has captured my feelings so strongly. It would be the beginning of my realization that many songs I'd hear afterwards with an emphasis on that note/chord would tend to get my mind focused on her. Anyway, it was performed by the band for the film Reality Bites. I never saw the film, but I love the song, particularly for its diverse musical style of playing, its bass line and its genre. It's a great reggae version of a Peter Frampton love song. I'll be coming back to him later.

Billy Joel (1965-Present)
A piano player from New York who had mainstream success from probably the mid-70s. I know several of his hits, particularly 'My Life' and 'Uptown Girl.' I don't particularly like any of them, though he does have a vocal range. The former I don't like simply because I don't really enjoy songs where the singer is ranting or trying to get the subject to leave him alone or stop. The latter I just don't like in general. 'Keeping the Faith' is alright, though I was surprised the same singer that did 'My Life' was singing that. Anyway. He's had some great success and there's no doubt he has talent, but I just like his one song listed below.

It's All Rock'n'Roll To Me (1980)
I liked this almost as soon as I heard it. Maybe it's because it sounds kind of sarcastic and skeptic. I may not enjoy hearing him say "I don't want to hear you say..." or "not on my time," etc., but I greatly enjoy his sarcastic rhyming with this one. "How about a pair of pink sidewinders and a bright orange pair of pants? You can really be a beau brommel baby if you just gave it half a chance." Then there's the music, with a progression that sounds familiar but is actually different, going from C through E minor, B flat major, and ending on F major. There's a section in minors - E minor, A minor, repeat, then D major and G major. The song has elements of 1950s rock, which I like as it's different and incorporated nicely.

Blind Melon (1990-1999)
Once again, just a band I know thanks to one song. Their lead singer died in 1995 of an overdose.

No Rain (1992)
This song is almost something of a novelty because if you ask anyone (old enough, or into older music) they'll probably say that that's the song with the bee girl. But aside from that, I like its simplicity and its sunny atmosphere. This is one of the very few songs I can play from beginning to end on acoustic guitar. E major to D major. That's mostly it. There's an A major and an E minor 7 or something, I kind of forget, but that's it. Oh, and a G major. The song is a nice fusion of electric and acoustic guitar. The bass line might sound simple, especially with such a simple progression, but I've isolated it and it's actually played around it pretty well. Complex, but not overly so. The bassist is also the backing voice in the song. Of course, the music video probably overshadows the song, which is kind of unfortunate. The director of the video would go on to direct Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' the same year, a song viewed as an anthem for the 'apathetic gen Xers,' though it really was an unintentional heavy-hitting marketing piece for Teen Spirit deodorant. Upon looking it up, I discovered that it was (at the time) a hugely popular deodorant for teen girls, released to market in 1991. You can't buy it today, unfortunately. Sales of the feminine hygiene product mirrored the charting progress of the iconic grunge song. It's no longer on the market. The Nirvana song probably is, but likely only on online vendors like iTunes and in the used section in whatever real-world record stores are still around. How did I get so off topic? Blind Melon. No Rain. Good song.

Blondie (1974-1982)
This is a rare example of a band I largely don't have any interest in - or even like - yet they have one good - perhaps okay - song that I will listen to. Everyone else knows them for their impact on pop culture via 'One Way or Another.' I've heard a few of their other songs, none of which I really actually like. Heart of Glass? No way. The Tide is High? Yeah, not listening to that. One Way or Another? Heard it enough. Call Me? Sure, why not.

Call Me (1980)
Originally, I liked this because I liked the sound of Debbie Harry's voice during the bridge, where she sings in several different languages. I found it sensual and attractive. Then I began listening to the whole thing in general and it just fit in with what I routinely listened to, because there wasn't anything wrong with it or annoying. Nothing to dislike. This is a very obvious song in D minor - not just the key, but like 'The Wall' by Pink Floyd, use of the D minor chord as well. Both songs have a dominant guitar D minor chord played throughout the song. Anything else? Well, the pattern used to play the drums by focusing in the hi-hat was interesting.

Blue Peter (1978-1985)
This is a Canadian band that has some interesting sounds and potential. I need to listen to more of their stuff. I recently checked out 'Don't Walk Past' and it's a synthpop song with a really nice piano riff in the middle and during the final coda. I've heard 'Chinese Graffiti' on the radio more than once as well. I like lead singer Paul Humphrey's voice.

Radio Silence (1980)
This a good song to kill time with. I tend to think of deserts when I hear it, deserts and heat. Nice simple easy rock progression and sound. Like I said, I like the lead singer's voice. Good to listen to in the late afternoon in the summer, perhaps during rush hour.

Blue Rodeo (1984-Present)
I was introduced to this band (also Canadian) via my mother's VHS tapes. They're an okay band. I wouldn't listen to all of their stuff but they have a couple of nice songs. There's probably more out there I'd like, but so far nothing else I've heard - 'Lost Together,' 'Till I am Myself Again,' etc. - have caught my ears. There is 'Try,' however, which is truly endearing and sweet. I wouldn't put it on my list, though.

Trust Yourself (1990)
This was what I heard/saw on the tape. I liked it. I love the guitar notes played in the intro. The music just sounds good. Sounds like the song is ruled by minors, which together can give it a great, if not dark, serious sound. I don't know the chords or notes - I may assume the first note could be E minor - but I'm going to learn them.

Hasn't Hit Me Yet (1993)
This was a radio find. When I first heard it, I actually thought that it was Elvis Costello. I was surprised to discover it was these guys, because the voice singing wasn't the one I was expecting. Turns out they have two singers that perform in much the same consistency as The Cars' Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr. One sings a lot more often, the other now and then.
I like the guitar in this song, mostly. That and some of the lyrics. I find them relatable to some extent, at least in the sense that I felt that way a lot more often in the past. The song's structure is also nice in that it builds up, though unlike 'Trust Yourself,' which uses minor chords overall (it seems), this song is just as negative and dark in its lyrics yet it uses music that's much more cheerful, if not a little bittersweet. It's interesting and welcoming.

Boney M. (1975-1986)
This is the brainchild of German producer Frank Farian, an almost-chef who happened to turn on the TV one day to the credits of an Australian import called Boney. Playing with studio tools, he tweaked his voice and recorded a dance song called 'Baby Do You Wanna Bump.' This was the start of a big European dance group that worked by having a studio full of session players and Farian create and sing the music, and several dancers - three female (who also provided vocals) and one male (just a guy) - 'front' the group. Everything was done behind the scenes, with the four performers largely miming and dancing to provide in the absence of a band and Farian himself. Ironically, Farian tried to continue this practice into the 1990s, creating a band called Milli Vanilli, and that blew up in the worst way. It's pretty amazing that what seemed to be common practice in the 70s - at least with Farian's methods - came to be the sort of thing that justified lawsuits and infamy in the 90s. I can imagine Frank wondering, "why? I spent years having Bobby Farrell pretend to sing my could doing this again cause so much disaster? Blitzkrieg!"

Rasputin (1978)
A dance song sensationalizing the life of Gregori Yefimovich Rasputin, particularly his fall from grace as men in 'higher standing' plotted to, and carried out, his assassination (Prince Yusupov and company). The song champions him as 'Russia's greatest love machine,' loved by young women and hated by politicians and men of the aristocracy. I've done my own reading on this topic, though via an actual historical text written by Robert Massie rather than Wikipedia (Massie's work is actually cited several times in the Wikipedia article of Nicholas II, last Tsar of Russia). The song ends with Farian proclaiming, "oh, those Russians," which is a direct reference to an earlier song by Eartha Kit. Musically, it's the most B-focused song I've heard, with the bass, strings and guitar all starting on, jumping up to, and returning back to B major. It's neat. However, unlike the lyrics, Rasputin was never the 'lover' of the Russian queen. The papers and common folk of the day often got that impression, but he was only an adviser and manipulator who used scripture, holy faith, and the power of his demeanor (plus the power of his followers) to get his way. A lot of people would comment on his gaze. It's a fun song, typical of the Eurodance stuff of the time. America had "Y.M.C.A." Europe had 'Rasputin.' One talked about hanging out at a bath house; the other partly sensationalized historical events and figures. I think the latter sounds more interesting.

The Box (1981-1992)
Another Canadian act, this one being from Montreal (apart from all the Toronto-based ones I've been touching on so far). These guys had a couple of fair hits in this country, particularly 'Closer Together' in the mid-80s. I think they were something. Funny thing: I almost never see live music. I never have much of the interest or the time considering I work evenings. I don't watch tour dates or rosters. I do get the odd invitation, but I rarely go (not my taste, or I'm working). One time, however, I finally opted to try out something a college professor was playing, at a place called the Brass Monkey. Only a ten minute drive down the road, why not. It wasn't too bad.
I would find out that the following night, The Box had actually played a gig at the same place. I hadn't gone. I hadn't been able to. I had to work that night. But they played here, in that little bar, just up the road from me! They were an 80s band that produced records! The whole thing makes me hang my head because all of the artists and bands I'm interested in are either apart, reformed into something else, or on-and-off, mostly because they're from twenty to forty years ago. Or they're based in a different country, or they're in Europe. Yet I could have had the opportunity to actually see a Canadian 80s outfit that never got huge but got big enough, just when they happened to be more or less back together, not necessarily recording big-time but present enough to happen to bop around to your local tavern. Not just any, but the one right up the road, ten minutes' drive. Gee. That would have been a live experience I'd have been happy to have. After all, how often can one get the chance to see an 80s Canadian thing that did okay - today?

Walk Away (1984)
This is a song that's mostly comedic and silly, and its style is why I like it: There's not much singing. The vocals are more of a description, a monologue of activities and movements that could probably fit a stand up comedy routine. The music is guitar-driven and easy-going, following along with the lyrics at a simple pace that can get maddening after awhile, just as the lyrics do. Call me simple, but I did find the sound effects really funny the first couple of times. "Breakfast/hot coffee (breaking dishes) Whoops! In your eggs! Never mind..." It just sounded hapless and constantly unfortunate. It's your typical never-ending mid-week day at the drab office, complete with tardiness, spilled coffee, and creepy co-workers. I like its reality-driven focus and non-traditional leadership of spoken monologue over repetitive music. Of course, there is the refrain: "I caught myself dreaming of an open field..." There is a return to the usual song structure, but it comes in doses.

My Dreams of You (1986)
I felt a real emotional connection to this song. It does sound dreamy (the chord synths and fast keyboard notes) but also very full of yearning, endearment, and melancholy. I related the lyrics to how I felt about two female 'friends' who were never more than acquaintances of which I had separate crushes on. I first heard it on the radio just as I was leaving my car to get to class. I ended up a minute late thanks to my intrigue. It sounds both wondrous and forlorn at the same time. Like you're in awe of how you think you may be feeling about someone, but simultaneously saddened and hopeless that that someone will never share your wonder or feelings, and that they'll only ever be a face. Musically, it sounds somewhat similar to 'Don't (Forget About me)' by Simple Minds, in terms of progression. I think they're both in E minor: E/B/A. One is a lot more optimistic and happy, though.

Boyzone (1993-2000)
An Irish boy band, in similar vein to America's Backstreet Boys and N*Sync and Canada's soulDecision and b4-4. I only know them thanks to their song 'Picture of You.' I do know that Ronan Keeeting went solo and released a song called 'Lovin' Each Day,' which I used to hear on the radio a lot at the time. That song was alright, though I wouldn't listen to it now.

Picture of You (1997)
I heard this over the closing credits of Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie. I still like the song, particularly for its horns and the mental images I derive from it, visual and synesthetic, thanks to the influence of the film. The voices are nice as well. It seems to be about forgiving and forgetting in friendship. The music has a regretful and hopeful tone to it. It's not bad. Of course, Mr. Bean features in the music video and on the cover of the single artwork.

Bran Van 3000 (1996-2002)
Wikipedia describes this band as an 'alternative rock collective' from Montreal. When I hear the term 'collective,' I think of bohemian artists living part-time in a van carrying hand-made instruments and playing to their own rules. And I imagine a lot of people being part of it. But perhaps the modern view of it is 'a bunch of creative people from various backgrounds democratically making their own sound to their own rules.' I didn't copy that from anywhere. I came up with that. I think it sounds more accurate, and at least more positive. Anyway, their name definitely sounds unusual - like a healthy cereal alternative, but from the future (considering the blatant 3000).

Drinking in L.A. (1997)
I love this song's sound. It has this high distortion to it, mixed with angry self-disparity and loathing. The lyrics talk about looking for opportunity - "But we did nothing that day, and I say, what the hell am I doing drinking in L.A. at twenty-six?" The introduction creatively takes the form of a commentator being heard on the radio one morning. Then the aspirations and frustrations of the vocals start up, talking about writing and publishing scripts and stories and gaining success as a writer, except those are merely goals and aspirations, and what's really happening is the singer is lazily hanging around in a state of lethargy and depression, and feeling a lot of anger at the lack of self-progress. The music also seems to dissipate a lot of heat to me - not literally, of course, but I get the impression the day is hot and sunny, and in a negative way. The song does a good job interpreting and telling the story, but musically and vocally. Of course, for what seems no reason at all, the cover art of the single features a man and a woman in 40s style swimming costumes running gleefully. The randomness of it all is exactly what I find attractive.

Bryan Addams (1976-Present)
Another Canadian artist, although much bigger than the bands I've been going over so far. His career has really lasted, though I'll say I think he probably had it best the year I was born, when he wrote and recorded a song for the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: 'Everything I Do, I Do it For You.' That song was the biggest hit of 1991. For me? Eh. Not to my interests, whether it's only four days older than me or twenty-five years. I'm not a big Bryan Addams fan, though I do like a select few of his songs, mostly in passing: Cloud Number Nine, When You're Gone. Otherwise, a lot of his earlier songs seem to sound identical, or at least similar, especially 'Fits You Good' and 'Cuts Like a Knife.' Then again, maybe that's just me.

Run To You (1984)
This is probably the one song of his that stands out to me above the rest. As I've probably said more than once in this whole thing, it's the guitar in the song. I'm actually a bit surprised at how often I say it's the guitar. Ah well. The guitar in this one has a real vocal tone to it, and it sounds like it has some kind of real authority in the song: If it were a person, you wouldn't change his mind or his ways. He's going to do it his way. I also like the way the chorus plays: F sharp major, A major, E major, and B major. What do you know - it's the same progression in F sharp minor all over again! Why is it so popular? Either way, it works here, just as it does in all the other songs. Yet it's a song about cheating. The little bridge with the solo guitar power chords almost seems self-assuring, as if one is trying to see themselves in the best possible light despite their dirty deeds. Self assuring and self-affirming. Eh. Whatever. They just sound good.

Well, that FINALLY brings me to the end of the 'B' section of micro-reviews. This took several days, after many days of procrastination, but it's been interesting. I'll come back with reviews on artists that begin with 'C' at some point in the future.

*Correction: I erroneously described The Bangles as 'another British girl group.' They're American. Duh. And since the publication of this list of reviews, I've heard their song 'Walking On Your Street.' Sounds like 'Love Shack' by The B-52's. Good song.

Red Cloud

Friday, April 15, 2016


Taking a quick break from writing all of those mini-reviews for a second.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a conclusion I'd come to on online dating. I'd only been at it for a couple of weeks, yet despite having not tested time with it, I don't think it's fully objective. A lot of it is based on the most negative non-personal ideas - that the Internet is a predatory place and girls on there are highly careful and selective and judgmental because of largely just that, above all else. My own character or image wasn't really evaluated or taken into consideration when I wrote it.

Yes, the Internet can be a predatory place. People have a lot of free reign on it, more or less. There is little difficulty in pretending to be someone else, or being manipulative. However, there are places and resources online available to virtually everyone save for those that are undoubtedly, severely illegal, such as child pornography - and even that, for those so inclined, isn't absolutely inaccessible unfortunately. I factor in severity by the way because streaming and sharing/downloading pirated TV and music and films online is illegal yet a lot easier to do - and the consequences aren't nearly as severe as accessing or distributing child porn. But in the big picture, if you want to chat on a sex site, you can; if you want to find a place for people who share your sexual fetish, you can; if you want to do online dating, you can, and there are even specific sites for those wanting to narrow it down by religion or busy work schedule or country or even professionalism. Forget the Internet on your PC or laptop, remember all the thousands of smartphone apps that do all the same things. So while the predatory nature of the Internet still rings true, it can't be an all-around fact that's as severe and problematic as I suggested, because the online world is already impossibly huge and rich in nature to provide for just about everyone to begin with.

Since first trying it out, I have never gotten further than a few messages back and forth with a couple of girls. I fully attributed this to the idea above. I didn't particularly entertain the idea that maybe I had anything to do with it. There's no doubt that it's mostly me, if not entirely me. There's two big issues I find with online dating altogether, and one positive thing:

-Words. How the hell do you write to a total stranger on the Internet to say you like them without sounding creepy or weird or in violation of unspoken boundaries? It might be nice to hear someone on the street compliment your hair or your eyes, but the same stock light-mannered expressions - "you look nice today," "I like your smile," "Nice hair," etc. - they can probably get tiring to listen to over and over, though they're the only moderate things to say to a stranger without sounding suspicious in some way. How do you sound unique and different and not creepy or like anyone else - timid and boring? A lot of girls will write "say something real, no "what's ups" It's a tricky thing to wrestle with.

-Image. It's likely that how you look in a photograph is the only way you have ever looked in your life. No other picture will show you in the precise - and I mean exact - expression and manner as the first. No two pictures are exactly the same, no matter how many selfies you take of yourself; a human face is capable of thousands of expressions that are almost always changing in the moment, so your picture is only capable of showing you in one tiny sliver of light. Often, it never comes close to doing your actual image justice. How can you derive a personality out of a static image of someone? I don't take very nice portraits. I look pissed off or angry or sad. I'm not any of those things. I never was. I look crazy if I smile too much, so getting it right means trying to smile very gently and naturally, which just makes my face look posed and unnatural. So I never really look myself, because that's my at-rest face in that one-set expression. It doesn't stay that way of course - like any other face, it changes. Unfortunately, free dating sites almost entirely rely firstly on pictures of subjects, using an image to create the first impression or attraction, which makes the process highly superficial because the image is all you get at first. The image being of a person who doesn't really look like he/she does in that image, and never will again. This superficiality goes both ways: I click 'no' or swipe left if I don't find a face attractive, or if it's attractive but not quite there. Or if the girl's name is too similar to mine ("Justine"), or if her picture is a huge group of people so I can't tell who is who. I'm highly judgmental. Too many girls post pictures of themselves trying to take their picture with a cell phone in a mirror; the result is a picture of them looking at their cell phone. The personality I get from that is a narcissistic one, yet that's probably not that true. I bet that if I were to walk into a room full of these girls, a lot of them would look twice as attractive as they did because their faces are actually moving, changing expression, and with that movement comes personality and character and body language/temperament. From static, black and white to a colorful movement of expression. I can hear their voices, their demeanor, their mannerisms, everything.

The one positive thing is that if you've been successful at piquing someone's interest, if they've decided your picture is cute or attractive or shows the right character (even though said shown character is a minuscule sliver of the actual thing) and if they found your compliments or choice of expression somehow creative or different enough to be interesting, you have the opportunity to establish a dialogue that proves your demeanor and voice in an easy, safe environment. There's no butterflies or awkwardness, no potential for verbal or physical mistakes like there may be on a first-time date. There isn't nearly as much pressure. You can talk about yourself and ask questions after thinking them through via your keyboard and a web page rather than stuttering through spoken language in front of him/her. If that works out, you can move to texting and other modes of communication, and ultimately to actual face-to-face dating. It gives you the opportunity to lay yourself out as best as you can without the pressure of social constructs and settings that come with first dates.

Unfortunately, you have to work around the superficiality of the static image and in having a first-time message be witty and interesting without overstepping yourself and/or giving rise to suspicion first, and that is very, very tricky. You like someone you see online, you want them to like you, so you'll be genuine - it's just so difficult getting past the judgments cast upon you from their perspective. No "what's up?" They get that every day. No "I think you're very cute and I like your ass." That's too far between complete strangers. "I, uh, think you're pretty, and I like dancing as well, and, yeah, I read your profile and liked what it said, I can be an animal lover too, eh?" No, that probably comes off as creepy or weird. In the end, it gives wonder to whether the two disadvantages I talked about above are worth the third advantage. Maybe it's better just to be out in the world and be social with people? Go out and try new things and meet people that way? After all, the more you do that, the more fulfilling life is, and the better you probably are at just talking to people and being openly friendly and confident, nullifying that one advantage of the online world thanks to all that practice. Girls can judge you by your live personality and demeanor no static image can fully display, and the confidence and interest actually shows. No need to write an awkward first message - they've already seen what you're like via body language that that's enough.

That's my real (and final) conclusion on online dating.

Red Cloud

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Micro-Review Series - A

Here's the first round of micro-reviews, beginning with bands whose names start with the letter A.

A Flock of Seagulls (1979-1986)
This British group was started in the late 70s by hairstylist Mike Score, his brother, and two friends who eventually formed the proper line up: Ali Score, drums; Paul Reynolds on guitar; and Frank Maudsley on bass. They fell into the New Wave genre really well and, like their contemporary Gary Numan with 'Cars,' they're probably best-known for their massive hit 'I Ran (So Far Away).' I recall first hearing and noticing the song while eating at Boston Pizza. Of course, they had a repertoire of other songs (like 'Space Age Love Song') and more than one album, but all of that was overshadowed by their aforementioned hit. This was the beginning of the era for music videos, and 'I Ran' shone through with its atmosphere and dizzying video. They definitely had talent - I've given both their self-titled debut and The Story of a Young Heart a listen - but the public was too impatient to give them any lasting attention thanks to the fact they couldn't seem to raise the bar higher than they did with that one song. Moving to the States didn't help, and as a result Mike Score is the only musician left over, performing on his own - probably okay as long as he doesn't have to sing that 'dreadful' song.

"I Ran (So Far Away)" (1982)

Taken singularly, without the iconic lens and the listening reaction, the song is a pretty simple composition (A major, G major, F major, G again...) that fits well into the electronic, New Wave style of the time: Long, unusual, synthy-sounding intro, synthed strings held forever, echo-y vocals and simplistic hooks. The bass is very edgy and choppy; I listened to the individual instrument tracks once, and found the keyboard soft and never-ending, the drums deep and distant, and the bass plucked hard, as if the strings were sharp and jagged and over-driven. You don't hear the bass well, really, other than the high notes Maudsley plays. The guitar is my favorite instrument in the song. It provides an active, involved accompaniment that gives the song its character (while the synths give it its atmosphere).
I find the first lyrics kind of funny: "I walked along the avenue. I never thought I'd meet a girl like you." That first line is the most mundane counterpart to the second half, of meeting the girl. It would make more sense to me if he'd said "I walked along the Riviera" or "I walked along the sandy beach." Avenue only sounds nice if it were Sunset Boulevard in L.A. He might as well have walking along a dusty side street in an industrial zone. Anyway, I like the song for its simplicity and for being, like 'Cars,' something of a pioneer effort in the genre of early 80s New Wave. And it does have its iconic status. The video is the result of simple low-budget ideas - and more or less, it works. Other than the fact you can see the camera in the mirrors, and the waveform effects during the guitar solo look kitschy.

"You Can Run" (1982)

This is one of the tracks off of their debut, self-titled album. It's a good guitar-driven track and it makes great use of its musical elements. The only thing I don't particularly like is its boring title and lyric - "you can run but you can't hide." I feel like even then, that line was overly used in pop-culture already. But anyway, this shows their talent and their musicianship somewhat and sounds solid. Plus, it isn't an eternal track of impossible-to-hear lyrics, synth effects, and progressions that are impossible to follow or make head or tail of, like 'Space Age Love Song' or 'Telecommunication' or their other similar tracks.

"Story of a Young Heart" (1984)

This is the lead-off from their third album, and their best song in my opinion. It sounds soft, deep, melodic, and both happy and sad at the same time. I love Score's yearning voice in the verses and the bass guitar's melodrama in the chorus. It sounds extremely versatile, which is a huge contrast to its sound in 'I Ran.' The guitar is also greatly played in a soft, distant style while the keyboards aren't too overwhelming. The two instruments mix together very well. The introduction is a bit unprecedented - just a tom drum pattern played on what sounds like the 80s-style hex pads drummers always included at the time - but the keyboards come in and elevate them well. Drawbacks are the everlasting chorus - "this is a story of a young heart" - and lyrics that tend to come back to that idea over and over during the verses ("the story in your eyes is the story of a..." you get the idea). Ali also tends to add additional drum bits that aren't necessarily required, which makes me wonder if he felt undervalued or under-used (or bored as he forever drummed the chorus). But the little bridge with the keyboard notes are awesome, including the following guitar/keyboard solo, and the entire thing makes me think of a dark, cloudy, rainy spring day, very romanticized. It sounds soothing over all, as if it were raining outside. It's synesthetically very grey and dark to me, or grey-blue, and I actually think of a girl that was in my high school photography class eight years ago.

Ace of Base (1990-Present)
One of the greats to come out of Sweden, they probably made it the most commercially in the early 90s with their album Happy Nation. This was chiefly thanks to singles like 'All that She Wants' and 'The Sign,' which sound similar stylistically and have great stylistic elements. I haven't really paid much attention to them other than the two songs, which were radio features in my young childhood. I remember swimming in a kiddie pool in my backyard one afternoon while 'The Sign' was playing on a small cassette player, and I remember visualizing a stop sign in response to the song. In summary, the band did a follow up called The Bridge in 1995, covered Bananarama's 'Cruel Summer' in 1997, did a compilation at the turn of the millennium, released a fourth album, and then went on hiatus, returning now and then to do shows. In my mind, as well as probably most other peoples,' they are an early 90s outfit in style, sound, and culture. You can't think of the first half of that decade without hearing the heavy bass drum sound of their drums, off-beat piano, keyboard riffs, and loud female vocals.

"All That She Wants" (1992)

This song went somewhere partly because, apparently, the record producer the band wanted couldn't get the damn demo tape of it out of his car's player. This song was the birth of Ace of Base's sound and style: small keyboard riffs, staccato, off-beat piano chords, and drums that are pointedly hard on the bass. Really, I find the bass drum in Ace of Base songs similar to a metal pole with a foot-wide diameter pounding the ground. But maybe that's just me.
The piano is the star of this song for me. I love the inverted C sharp minor chord. It makes the song seem rainy to me. C sharp minor, A flat minor, F sharp minor. Then there's the great, sinister bridge including sax that follows C sharp, G sharp-B-C-C sharp. The song ends on this four-note progression. The minor piano chords set the appropriate tone for the lyrics: Cold, distant, dismissive. Like the female subject, after a night of passion. Any drawbacks? I don't really see any.

"The Sign" (1993)
Not as distant as their first single (and not exactly as highly regarded by me) this is a much more cheery song that continues to define the style they made for themselves at that time. This song sounds more reggae to me, partly due to the higher-pitched drum bits here and there (but again, there's that louder bass drum) and the bright opening keyboard riff is probably one of the most 90s sounds to hear. It actually makes me think of swimming and pool water, probably thanks to hearing it while swimming in my backyard (not to mention I took swimming lessons at that age as well). The bass guitar has a bigger role in this song, and it's picked a bit faster as it would be in the style of reggae. This song probably gives me childhood nostalgia more than anything else; it's familiar and returns me to a semblance of those original synesthetic images and colours (obviously years of smearing a veneer of other influences and re-imagining have changed it somewhat). The chords are brighter. I haven't tried figuring them out, but I can guarantee that some are major chords while most are, like their first song, minor chords. I like the song, and I would listen to it, with no real drawbacks that I can think of. It's a familiar sound, and exactly how Ace of Base does and should sound to me - them and the early 90s.

After The Fire (1974-1982)
This is a group that, like so many others, is largely known for a one-hit wonder. These guys have been around since 1974, which I didn't expect when I double-checked their active time-period on Wikipedia, and in quickly skimming the article, it appears they had localized success in London with a sound similar to bands like Genesis and Yes. Had Gary Numan not been scheduled to play on Top of the Pops the same week ATF had been (causing their appearance to be cancelled - their change to New Wave keyboard-style music was one too many with Numan also on the bill) they might have made it to a point where more of their music could have had more exposure (and more than one mere one-hit-wonder from them might have appeared on my list). They took Falco's hit single, "Der Kommissar," and translated it, loosely, to English, re-recording the music and expanding the song a somewhat. It was good, but by that point they'd exhausted their patience with each other (and probably the patience of the record company) and called it a day. Too little, too late. Like Sublime, but for totally different reasons, they broke up right as they were finally getting attention.

"Der Kommissar" (1982)
Falco, an Austrian artist, came out with this in 1981. The original is basically, I would say, a short, simple commercial pop song using a synthesized honky-tonk piano melody with a well-produced guitar riff. This sounds cleaner than the ATF version, which itself sounds somewhat less glossy and more rough. I think the novelty of the song - in English or German - is its catchy chorus. I remember hearing it for the first time properly in 2010, probably off of a TV show that chronicled 80s one-hit wonders. I liked the bombastic "wha-ohs' in the chorus; the vocals made me think of rambunctious teens having fun, blithely without regard for consequences. The fun seemed infectious. Later, I got a lot out of the keyboard sound ATF used. The progression is simple: D, CBA...GA. "Don't turn around, wha-oh..." the organ-style staccato notes hit D major and A minor alongside this, and there's an overlying riff of chords that I haven't ever properly laid down (one is definitely a sustained D major though). In the final chorus, everything breaks off for a keyboard/organ solo that sounds flashy but not, when I think of it now, really necessary. I liked it back then.
The problem with ATF's version is its length and repetitive verses. There's this guitar riff that plays in both versions - it sounds good, but ATF decided to repeat it twice over two different sections of the song. This makes it go on forever. Same goes for the bridge. They aren't really adding anything new other than minor keyboard elements that aren't worth it (not when they get a whole prelude of a proceeding verse). As a result it gets really boring, and the singer only has enough lyrics for half of these musical interludes. Speaking of the vocals, they sound like too much swagger was injected into them, so that the lyrics sound somewhat silly in singer Banks's tone, kind of contrived.
What's funny about 'Der Kommissar' is that this song took on three separate incarnations: First as its German original, then as an expanded British New Wave version, then finally as an American pop version by singer Laura Branigan. This happened each successive year since its first release, from 1981 to 1983. Branigan's producers wrote new lyrics for the song, and the instrumentation was re-worked, a new key chosen, but it's essentially the same thing, down to the repetitive guitar riff. Even the random "Chucks!" survived each version, unaltered, in the same language, in the same yelled manner.

Alanis Morissette (1991-Present)
I don't want to get to much into her history going from the past to the present - she's something of a celebrity now - but she had an interesting start in a TV show produced and filmed right where I grew up, called You Can't Do That on Television. I've seen pieces of it on YouTube, and I'm always proud when I see it referenced on American sitcoms, because it really must have had an effect on the cultural subconscious if writers in California and New York are putting jokes or references from an Ottawa-based local kid's show into their nationally-televised sitcoms. She featured in five episodes as a kid, and then she moved into music in her late teens, starting a recording career around the turn of the 90s. She wouldn't make much impact until 1995, with her smash hit 'You Oughta Know,' which came off of her first internationally-released album Jagged Little Pill. Ever since she's managed her success, releasing albums and touring worldwide. I remember seeing her play the part of God in the film Dogma. But in terms of music, while I can listen to most of the singles released on that first big album, I largely have a preference for just a few of them. I am happy, though, that other than Eight Seconds, and a few other tiny acts, there's a successful, internationally-known musician that actually hails from this policy-transfixed government town.

"You Oughta Know" (1995)

This is a great 90s rock song. The guitar is edgy, the bass is frantic but deep, and Morissette's vocals are tough and speaks volumes. You don't want to be on the receiving end of those words, which are vengeful to the extreme and just nasty. They have real power that you rarely ever see, at least in that sense, from a female vocalist. How often to you get a female-sung song that's vengeful, and I mean powerfully vengeful, as in you've made the worst mistake in wronging her, and she's going to hunt you down and kill you? And this was 1995, coming from a 19-year-old kid. It was no doubt pioneering and something of a breakthrough for all of those silenced women who'd been cheated on - they now had something to listen to, to relate to. Of course there were probably songs about cheating sung from the female point of view then, but I doubt any of them had any rightful anger in them.
I like the song for, well, everything. I like Morissette's powerful voice and quick lyrics; I like the hard, rocking guitar, and the jumpy bass - Flea's trademark style. The drums have this tinniness to them, as if the treble was high, but I just think of that as a 90s drum sound almost similar to the drums in Chumbawumba's 'Tubthumping.' Any drawbacks? Not really. It has a soft beginning, an angry, ranting middle, and a very vengeful climax. I would be lying if I didn't say that part of my like of the song is pride in where she comes from. Like, hey, we're not doormats who only understand the word "sorry." If you fuck with us, this is what you might expect. At least when it comes to treating our women right.

Amanda Marshall (1995-Present)
Another Canadian artist, she probably fell into the genre of easy listening pop. And like a lot of diverse Canadians, she was mixed-race between caucasian and Trinidadian. My mother had her debut on cassette tape and often played 'Birmingham.' I often wonder if the cover of the album was photographed on the beach at Sandbanks Provincial Park. Anyway, she had some minor hits off of her debut, but they all paled in comparison to 'Birmingham' which went much further. Following that, she released a couple of additional albums into the 2000s, and then stopped - a trajectory that I find is similar to a lot of briefly-heard 90s acts. I've heard a few of her other later songs ('Everybody's Got a Story,' 'Sunday Morning After,' etc.) but when I think of her I largely think of 1995 and her notable hit of 'Birmingham.' I do hear her played at Wal-Mart often - usually it's 'Sitting on Top of the World' from 1997, which is just okay in my opinion (fine music; just not to my taste or interests).

"Birmingham" (1996)
My original review

While I do have an original review linked above, it mostly details what I visualize thanks to the music. Why do I like this song? Part of it is childhood nostalgia, but it's also the musical elements: The airy piano, the vocals, which in voice remind me of a maternal aunt, the deep bass, and the sax. The acoustic and electric guitar bits. It's an easy-paced song that has a lot wealth of sound on its landscape. You can't really hear through it, it's solid. There's a string section that really helps that on for the choruses, and the musical progression meshes well with the story: anticipation and yearning for the pre-chorus build up, bright hope and opportunity in the chorus. It always resolves on a bright D. The piano-driven intro played to a drum machine is very bright and makes me imagine a sunny morning during breakfast. The notes revolve around the root and median notes of C major and D major played together back-and-forth. As for the chorus, it gets interesting (at least on piano): D major to A minor 7, then a G/C chord before resolving back to D major. The A minor 7 puts the musical direction with her vocal melody; she is on the 7th of that chord in voice.
I can't really find any drawbacks to it, really. It has an intro, verses, a chorus, bridge, everything you'd expect, and none of them are drawn out. The extra musical elements - the acoustic, the sax, the strings - all elevate it and keep it interesting from beginning to end. It's bright and chirpy but hopeful and yearning as well. It's a great debut hit.

"Let it Rain"

This is a much darker, more negative song. It was also released as a single, though it didn't get as much attention as 'Birmingham' did. It's a good song to listen to on a late fall night with leaves and rain and chills. Marshall's voice shines well in this song. It's another easy-listening type of thing where her voice is just soothing and gentle to listen to.
I don't know the chords - I've never been as interested in it as something I absolutely like, this is just a good enough song to listen to apart from the rest of her discography - but if I heard it I would pay attention. It's sad but redeeming and hopeful.

America (1970-Present)
I don't have too much to say on this band. There are some songs in my list that I added because if I wanted to listen to them again, I would have a place to find them, as well as a record that I like it enough. With this band I like their song 'You Can Do Magic,' which with 'magic' in its title is one of numerous songs with that title (and one out of two others by other bands that I like). I haven't looked into America other than to see that they originate from England. Despite this, they aren't really English considering they came from an American Air Force station in London. Like Bob Siebenburg and Stuart Copeland and many others, they're American musicians based in the U.K. Maybe that's why they called themselves 'America;' they're highlighting their national roots. They're still going today, apparently, releasing albums and everything, which is pretty amazing for any kind of band. Longevity isn't easy to acquire in the music industry (or any other attention-based industry).

"You Can Do Magic" (1982)

I heard this in Wal-Mart. I just found it catchy. It's an easy-going song that gives off hints of paradise with its musical hooks and spells. It actually kind of sounds like a song produced and sung by a band based out of the tropics rather than the U.K. I don't know why, but it gives off that impression to me. It sounds like it's based in E minor, and it's got somewhat of a glossy production to it - it sounds pretty clean. It sounded so remastered and digitally cool that when I first heard it on YouTube I thought it was a recent song, but that's probably partly due to the version that was uploaded to YouTube - maybe it came from a digitally remastered CD. The whole thing was written and produced by Russ Ballard, who partnered up with the band to produce it (and 'Jody') for their then-next album View From the Ground. The lyrics almost sound forceful: "You know darn well when you cast your spell, you get your way..." etc. I like the background acoustic in the verses and the general progression. There's some obvious sound effects present to capture the essence of the lyrics, probably a crash cymbal in reverse put together with a 'ding' from a microwave perhaps. No real drawbacks in my opinion - the lyrics are interesting from beginning to end, except for the whole "then I saw you" cliche in the first verse. And the distracting images in the video below (but I embedded this one to highlight the cool, precise production or remastering).

April Wine (1969-1986)
I'm not a big April Wine fan. I've heard a few of their other songs, and they don't really do it for me. They're soft rock-type things that work but they don't do it for me except for their song 'Say Hello' from 1979. I hear 'Tonight is a Wonderful Time to Fall in Love' and 'Rock'n'Roll is a Vicious Game' all the time on the radio; one sounds like a repetition of the phrase 'oh yeah' over and over, and the other doesn't do it for me. But they've endeared over time and have proven to be a solid Canadian rock group. When I put the time period next to the band, I should say I'm only including the classic heyday period; April Wine started up again in 1992 and continues to this day, probably with additional musicians.

"Say Hello" (1979)

This track is likable right from the echo-y drum introduction. I think I like it because of its guitar sound. It's a simple song, with a simple riff and simple lyrics. Simple is always more popular than complicated regardless of the circumstance or media. Also, unlike all the other April Wine stuff I've heard, the vocalist's voice sounds entirely different - did someone else sing on it? I don't really like Myles Goodwin's voice as it has an effeminate sound to them that's probably unique to my ears. I wasn't too sure if I was listening to a guy or a woman when I first heard 'I'm on Fire For you...' or whatever it's called. This song in contrast is a simple 'take me on, say hello.' The vocals almost get comically high-pitched during that chorus, which I kind of like. No real drawbacks that I can think of - I like the guitar sound, the drum rhythm, and the vocals. You don't have to keep count of the phrase 'oh yeah' sung at the end of virtually every line.

Asteroids Galaxy Tour (2007-Present)
So far this is the most recent band to show up here, and the first Danish one as well. But to me they're no different from Alanis Morissette or America - I really only like one of their songs, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm not alone in feeling like said song is the only one of theirs to break anywhere big.
They're still touring and writing, obviously, but I'm only familiar with 'Around the Bend' which made it big thanks almost entirely to the marketing department of Apple, Inc. It sounds almost psychedelic with its guitar/horns fusion of pop, and with that comes real likability.

"Around the Bend" (2007)

It was thanks to a cousin of mine that I was able to figure out the name of the song and the band. We were on the beach in Algonquin Park in 2009, and they had a speaker playing their music. They played this song while I was recording video with my camera, so when you look at the digital camera-filmed beach video, the song fades in and out almost dreamily as ambient sound. It fits the scenery and occasion well.
What strikes me highly with this piece of music is its fusion of horn section, guitar, and messy but dancy drum rhythm. The progression is simple and nice, if not derivative (right down to its key of F sharp major). Like Hanson's MMMBop, it celebrates friendship, though it's lighter and sunnier (Hanson wrote a cautionary tale about taking it for granted; Asteroids Galaxy Tour just sung happily about it). It's a very nice fusion of musical elements, which makes it stand out above all the digital sampling and auto-tuning that runs the music billboards today. There's a little keyboard providing riffs as well.
Drawbacks - really, the only one that I can see that's almost daunting at first is just vocalist Mette Lindberg's vocal registers. She goes up really high a couple of times. I had to listen to it at low volume for the first little while to get used to them. She sounds like a little girl throughout the song, which makes it seem more endearing. "I'll stay forever..." You just have to get used to her very high-pitched range. Otherwise, great song.


Well, that wraps it up for bands under the letter A in my list. Eventually I'll put together my micro-reviews for artists starting with 'B.' Hope these were interesting.

Red Cloud